Can I use cypress mulch in my vegetable garden? are they good for vegetables?
In its basic term, garden mulch is any substance or product spread over the topsoil to protect the roots and aid plants’ growth. By covering the ground with enough mulch, the amount of light reaching the weeds on the surface is drastically reduced invariably inhibiting their growth. This is beneficial to the roots of the plants as they have exclusive access to the soil’s nutrients.
Tackling a question like, ‘Can I use cypress mulch in my vegetable garden?’ could equally be an ethical issue as good garden practices. It’s such a subjective issue that the science behind it can get buried under economic, social, and environmental concerns.
As you prepare to start your garden, some challenges ahead might impact greatly on the expected harvest. For gardeners, the proliferation of weeds and how to control them are just two of the major challenges they’ll have to deal with. For the records, weeds alone are capable of destroying your garden if they are not handled properly.
Using cypress as mulch for your garden has benefits and disadvantages. Before getting into whether it is proper to use cypress mulch, an overview of the benefits of mulching would be necessary to put everything that comes after in better perspective.
Benefits of Vegetable Garden Mulch
As well as drastically cutting down on the time spent on weeding by depriving weeds of the sunlight needed for growth, mulching a garden also:
- Regulate soil temperature, keeping it warmer or colder in cold or warm weather respectively.
- Help to help to retain soil moisture which is very important in the growth and health of crops.
- Repels certain insects. When organic mulch is applied, the breakdown leads to the release of chemicals some of which ultimately improve the chemical composition of the soil.
This invariably leads to an increase in the number of bacteria, fungi, and insects that are helpful to the soil. With more beneficial organisms, harmful insects and organisms are kept at bay.
However, the downside is that other insects such as bugs are also attracted by decomposing mulch. But these can easily be controlled with the appropriate organic insecticides.
- Ensure garden produce stays clean by preventing the splashing of wet soil onto the fruits when the garden is being watered or during rainfall.
- When executed properly, mulch reduces erosion of the soil caused by wind and rain.
Can I Use Cypress Mulch In My Vegetable Garden?
There are two types of garden mulch: organic and inorganic mulches. Plastics or rubber and even rocks are classified under inorganic mulch. On the other hand, byproducts of organic sources such as trees, grass, nutshells, straw, etc., are all classified under organic mulch.
Cypress mulch is one of the best known organic mulch. There are two types of cypress mulch depending on the source of the cypress. There is the mulch made from bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) and the mulch produced from pond cypress trees (Taxodium distichum var. nutans).
To make the mulch, the trees are shredded or ground into chips.
Compared to other organic mulches, mulches made from cypress are generally cheaper and to a large extend, comes with all the advantages of mulching listed above.
Thus far, it would be easy to conclude that cypress mulch is very good for your vegetable garden. But it is not all well and good when it comes to using them in the garden. Some might even argue that the cons of using cypress mulch in a vegetable garden outweigh the advantages.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Cypress Mulch Pros and Cons
In general, the decomposition of organic mulch adds extra nutrients to the soil that plants can use. With cypress though, important nutrients like nitrogen are pulled away from the soil. This is stored in the mulch and used for decomposition of the cypress chips.
This makes it unsuitable for vegetable gardens as nitrogen is a vital nutrient in the production of vegetable protein. Some of the outward signs of nitrogen deficiency include the inability to grow healthy grow robustly into a healthy plant and the yellowing of older leaves on the plant.
Fortunately, this problem can be fixed easily by applying nitrogen-based fertilizers to the soil.
One of the major benefits of mulching includes the retention of water so the plants do not dry out fast. With cypress mulch, this advantage doesn’t last the distance.
Initially, as it should be expected from organic mulch, the soaked cypress allows some of its water to get to the roots of plants thereby nourishing the roots. Another plus is that evaporation of soil moisture is reduced to a large extent by the wet cypress.
After a while, the ability to regulate water in the soil is canceled out by the tendency of the cypress to soak up a high amount of water. This keeps the water away from plants that need it most.
The main danger kicks in when the cypress mulch inevitably gets dry. The much-vaunted water retention properties are lost. At this point, it can only repel water making it very unhelpful to plants.
The most common cypress mulch is in the form of wood chips that take a comparatively longer time to decompose. This makes them perfect only for garden with perennial crops since you don’t have to change the mulch for new ones yearly.
However, for vegetable gardens with annual plants (the most common types of crops in gardens are annual plants), using cypress mulch is rather expensive in the long run. This is because the benefits derived from the decomposition of organic mulch can’t be gotten with cypress that takes a long time to decompose.
There are two more consequences of this: if you are using a tiller machine, the still undecomposed chips can clog the machine; and the texture of the cypress chips can be abrasive to your hands when working without gloves.
Anytime you use cypress mulch in your garden, cypress trees somewhere are the worst for it. Since the demand for cypress mulch became higher, the industry around the harvesting of cypress for garden mulch has grown.
This leads to the indiscriminate cutting down of cypress trees to feed that demand for inexpensive mulch. This isn’t good for the environment.
In many places such as the wetlands of Florida and Louisiana, the trees are an intricate part of the ecosystem providing shelter for various wildlife. The roots function as natural filtration systems removing pollutants from the water.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reseed and grow back the trees in areas where cypress have been cut down. For this reason, many communities and councils in areas devastated by cutting cypress have banned the use of cypress mulch in farms and gardens.
You can do your bit to help the environment by looking for alternative sources of organic mulch.
Cypress Mulch Alternatives for Vegetable garden
Pine bark mulch for vegetable garden
Pine bark mulch is derived from pine bark. This is a very effective, totally biodegradable product that does not harm the environment. It is easy to fall in love with the brown color that blends perfectly with the soil.
Like cypress mulch, it decomposes slowly which makes it great for perennial vegetables.
Straw mulch is made from dehydrated pine needles making it a very environmentally-friendly product to use for vegetable gardens. They are best for crops that thrive best in cooler soil temperatures like cabbage and broccoli.
Cedar mulch in vegetable garden
Shavings from cedar trees also make awesome mulch for a garden. As well as moisture retention and protecting the garden from the menace of nasty weeds, it has a strong smell that is excellent at repelling insects and bugs from the garden.
If you are buying the cedar shavings from a store, make sure the package clearly states it’s 100% natural. Chemically-treated cedar shavings would introduce harmful chemicals to your garden’s soil.
Coconut chip mulch
Using dried coconut husk for mulching is one of the best alternatives to mulches created from tree barks or shavings. When it comes to water retention and release of the stored water to the soil, coconut husks are second to none.
This makes them a great choice if you don’t want to waste the limited water available for watering your garden. One consequence of that is you won’t have to water your vegetables frequently when using this as mulch.
It is also the best mulch to use for plants in pots and containers. Also, the lack of any smell and the smooth texture makes it excellent for indoor gardening.
Vegetables best suited for cypress mulch
Since cypress doesn’t decay as fast as other organic mulch, you would do well to use them on only vegetable garden planted with perennial crops such as asparagus, broccoli, rhubarb, sweet potato, Caucasian spinach, shallots, horseradish, watercress, and ginger.
It is recommended that the mulch is applied to a depth of between 2 – 3 inches around the perennial vegetables.
For the sake of aesthetics, cypress mulch can be painted to improve the appearance of the garden. But if you intend to grow the crops organically, it’s best to give painted cypress a wide berth.
If organic mulching is only about using some materials to help eliminate weeds in the garden, improve soil nutrients, and aid soil water retention, it is easy to make a good case for using cypress mulch in a vegetable garden.
In practice though, one would be best served with other organic products for garden mulch. For instance, due to the slow decomposition rate of cypress, it’s not advisable to use it in vegetable gardens with annual crops. As well as the fact that its water retention ability is not as good as other organic materials, it’s not an environmentally-friendly choice for mulching.
Fortunately, there are several organic alternatives devoid of the downsides associated with cypress mulch.